A HERMIT IN THE HIMALAYAS
These last words remind me of a significant anecdote which
was related to me some years ago by Sir Francis Younghusband.
More than thirty years ago he was placed at the head of a small
British military expedition which was sent across the snow-cloaked
shoulders of the Eastern Himalayas into Tibet to negotiate a
political and commercial agreement with the Lama-King's Govern-
The main object of the army's mission was to change the latter* s
hostile attitude and to compel the Tibetans to adopt a more reason-
able view towards Indian trade. With its entry Tibet's isolation
would begin to leak.
Sir Francis gave the Tibetans the fullest opportunity of arriving
at a peaceful settlement but they were obdurate. A hastily gathered
army barred his passage on the treeless road to Lhasa. The opposing
force was armed only with ancient and rusty matchlock guns, with
bows and arrows, and with swords. The British leader knew how
childish was this opposition to his well-equipped soldiers, with
modern rifles, machine-guns and mountain artillery. He therefore
requested the Tibetan commanders quite a few times not to resist his
advance and be massacred, as he sought only to get a treaty signed
and then he would immediately evacuate Tibet and return to India.
But despite their ill-armed and ill-disciplined body of men, the
Tibetans would not budge and affected scorn for the enemy, whom
at last they attacked. Colonel Younghusband (as he was then)
was compelled to give the order to fire, with the result that the
withering shells of his artillery poured into the Tibetan ranks, whilst
his quick-firing rifles were repeatedly pumping bullets into the
enemy when the latter took a few minutes to reload each wretched
muzzle-loading flintlock musket, with the flint often missing fire.
The inevitable occurred. Hundreds of Tibetan soldiers were
quickly shot down and the survivors fled in disorder. The way to
Lhasa lay open.
The point of this story is that the real reason of the Tibetan
army's opposition in the face of a force with such superior weapons
lay in its superstition. Its soldiers had trusted to the sorcery of their
reputed magicians and to the spells of their famous priests. They
had been told that, with the aid-of specially-prepared amulets and
talismans which were freely distributed in their camp, they would
be rendered supernaturally invulnerable against the shots of the
enemy. And such was their unthinking faith and blind superstition
that these poor ill-fated men did attack the British army with
complete and complacent confidence that no British bullet would
be able to penetrate their bodies! But the laws of Nature will not
be suspended, even for any Lama!